To most people, there is only one "O" as far as icons from Chicago are concerned. But when Mikki Taylor, the former beauty editor at Essence, speaks of "O," there is no doubt whom she is talking about.
"Mrs. O. doesn't fall for every little trend," Taylor said. "And she leads her life the same way."
As a magazine editor, Taylor spent the past 30 years helping to set the bar for black beauty and fashion. Now she has trained her eye on Michelle Obama, arguably the most style-conscious first lady since Jacqueline Kennedy (later to be another famous "O"), in her new book, Commander in Chic (Atria Books, $26.99).
Subtitled, "Every woman's guide to managing her style like a first lady," the book is not so much a how-to guide as it is an inspirational look book filled with perky little prescriptions that Taylor calls "Mikki-isms." A typical pointer: "Your hair should be so fly that it looks as though you have a pro on speed dial."
Taylor comes across the same way in person, chipper and full of life. She's like the cool aunt whose style gene and closet you pray are passed down.
Having style is not about spending a lot of money and endless shopping, she said recently. "It's about establishing your dress code. True style is not something you put on."
To her, being fashionable is not about chasing the latest trend, but figuring out one's personal style and releasing it. That, Taylor added, is part of what makes the first lady's style so appealing.
"Mrs. Obama makes her look work for her no matter what's in or out," she said.
Taylor first met the entire Obama family when the president was a senator. She styled them in their Chicago home for the photograph that became the September 2008 cover of Essence.
Not paying any attention to designer tags, Taylor put Michelle Obama in a simple sleeveless deep-purple sheath dress from Obama's personal wardrobe.
Purple, she thought, complemented Michelle Obama's skin tone and is the color of royalty. The family was photographed seated at the bottom of the stairs.
"That cover is the cover that I'm most proud of in my career," she said. "It's the Obama family, it's prior to the election and it's one of the shots that was seen around the world."
Respect for Taylor from the fashion industry was highlighted at a party for her book last month. Its hosts were Soledad O'Brien of CNN and designer Tracy Reese, and it was held at Reese's store in New York. Guests, representing fashion, television and music, included Marvet Britto, Darryl McDaniels from Run-DMC and VH1's Janell Snowden.
The book devotes an entire chapter to exercise and health, filled with photos of Michelle Obama jogging and tending to the White House garden. And, of course, there are Mikki-isms like "Don't kid yourself: when it comes to mastering good health, it helps to be a little vain."
"If she can carve out time for it in her busy life, the rest of us can try," Taylor said of Obama. "Imagine trying to hold it down 365 days a year. That's Mrs. O."